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SIMchronise, a mobile technologies company based in Ireland, recently launched a mobile data backup service called PhoneBackup.eu that is built on the Open Mobile Alliance's Data Synchronization and Device Management standard (a.k.a. SyncML). SIMchronise principal Philippe Joly says that with the "high number of device models and manufacturers" of wireless phones, open standards make it easier for companies to provide data synchronization services.
The SyncML initiative was announced publicly in February 2000, and the 1.0 specifications release was issued in December 2000. The SyncML initiative also developed an interoperability process, and adopting this process became part of the requirement for companies to achieve a SyncML compliance mark.
SyncML is supported by a large number of mobile phone manufacturers and service providers, but the number of independent services that take advantage of the standard is much lower. SIMchronise is one of a handful of companies that provide a mobile phone and backup synchronization service that is not vendor-specific. End-user subscriptions to PhoneBackup are picking up, Joly says, but the real growth potential lies in reseller activity.
For SIMchronise, the initial business plan was simply to provide a mobile data synchronization service, and leave it at that. "We went through a long market research exercise in order to understand who were the players," Joly says, "and better understand the overall space and related opportunities. Eventually we decided to change our focus to become an integrator of mobile applications. There seems to be a lack of know-how about how to put it all together, which is exactly what we've decided to provide to mobile virtual network operators (MVNO), service providers, retailers, and value-added resellers. Everyone wants to be able to provide a mobile data backup and restore service of some sort.
"Even with a defined and well-accepted standard there are still so many other parameters involved," says Joly, "such as device and operating system compatibility, the mobile network operators' specfic needs, the various data connection protocols, device configurations, and so on, all of which makes the provision of services like PhoneBackup quite a complex exercise. One challenge that we initially faced was to be taken seriously by big established players." Joly says SIMchronise overcame that challenge by developing niche expertise all of the complex aspects of interoperability that had prevented widespread use of the SyncML standard. This accomplishment gained SIMchronise the recognition it sought from mobile operators. "But the flip side of the coin was that it then became a challenge to communicate this complex architecture in simple terms," Joly says. "Everyone gets the big picture, but we have realized that many miss critical points, and we have found it hard to explain to mobile operators and service providers where and why their approach was wrong."
Joly says the launch of SIMchronise's PhoneBackup.eu benefited from a "great and favorable attitude in Ireland toward startups. We have received great help from the government agencies, and the 'Irishness' of our company has certainly opened doors for us and given us access to many great contacts with mobile operators and service providers. We have set up strategic partnerships to enable us to [eventually] provide our service worldwide. One key collaboration is with an Italian open source professional services company called KeyVision." KeyVision was founded by Paolo Rizzardini, previously employed at open standard synchronization engine provider Funambol. Joly says by collaborating with companies like KeyVision, both parties can reduce costs and complexity while increasing the quality of finished products.
Joly has plans to expand into other parts of Europe, and is in discussion with phone companies further abroad, in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, where he hopes to roll out more phone backup and synchronization services adapted to those markets. Joly says that an understanding of how to make services such as PhoneBackup work in Third World countries will help propel the industry into success in untapped markets. "The feedback [we have] received from users has confirmed that people are willing to pay for this service," Joly says.
Tina Gasperson writes about business and technology from an open source perspective.